What is Active Learning?

Active learning is when you actively participate in your learning process – rather than just passively reading or listening as the content is being transmitted to you. For example, when passively reading, you would read through your textbook, but when actively learning, you would regularly pause to think about what you have read and summarize it in your own words.

When you are actively learning, you are thinking critically about what you are learning, contributing ideas, investigating areas that you are uncertain about or more interested in, and creating new knowledge.

Advantages of Active Learning

To use what you are learning – whether to answer exam questions or apply your knowledge in future tasks – you will need to understand, recall, and apply what you have learned. So it is not surprising that actively engaging with the content during the learning process is going to give you an advantage – when just passively reading or listening to the material you are far less likely to remember it or be able to apply it successfully in future situations.

The more that your brain is activated during your learning, the more you learn. Claire Hoogendoorn1New Your City College of Technology. https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/writingacrossthecurriculum/2015/10/15/the-neuroscience-of-active-learning/ retrieved 1 September 2022 provides an excellent explanation of why this is:

As more brain areas are activated, there are higher number of cortical modules the hippocampi have to connect. This, in turn, makes memories more deeply embedded in the brain, and more easily retrievable. While passive learning may lead to a weak connection between neurons, active multisensory learning leads to deeply embedded neural connections.

Being active in your learning will help you:

  • Be interested in and engaged with your studies.
  • Develop your critical thinking skills.
  • Remember what you are learning.
  • Be better able to apply what you are learning.
  • Understand how well you understand the material and what more you need to learn.

Active Learning Techniques

You may come across active learning in the classroom, as increasingly teachers are using active learning techniques to supplement or replace traditional passive lecturing. You are participating in active learning if you are doing things like laboratory exercises, group problem-solving tasks, tutorials and group discussions, brainstorming…

But regardless of whether your teacher is explicitly incorporating active learning in your classes, there are many active strategies that you can introduce into your study habits. Remember that if it feels easier to just read and re-read your notes, or to just listen to lectures than to actively participate, that is because you are learning less!

Incorporate these study techniques into your regular study routine:

  • Reflective Learning
    Think about how the content fits into the course overall, why it is important, how it relates to things you already know, whether it is confusing, and how you might apply it.
  • Flashcards
    Flashcards are a popular way of memorizing material. Take care to space your flashcard sessions to maximize their effectiveness.
  • Active reading
    Pause to question what you are reading and summarize in your own words.
  • Making Notes
    Don’t just copy down passages verbatim – make your own summaries.
  • Teach others
    Teaching someone else is an ideal way of identifying gaps in your understanding.
  • Test Yourself
    Don’t wait until the examination to find out how well you have done – test yourself regularly.

Do you need to use more active study techniques?